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Article - 'Choosing Music' by Angroth

An item about Graphics/Audio posted on Jan 14, 2004

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Thinking or having troubles about music in your rpgs or games in general? Have a look here for help.

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Midi or Mp3?


Firstly you should decide whether you will use all midis, all mp3s or a mixture of both. To use mp3s you can either use some form of patch of simply put wave files of the mp3 into the music file (by use of sound recorder). Many people say mp3s are better obviously because it has vastly more sounds than a midi can provide and you can put you favourite songs into your game by real bands. Others feel mp3s take up too much memory and they are only going to be used to express the creator's music taste which not everyone will enjoy. Personally I feel both are valid points but mp3s are also a bad choice; by using music and bands you like you aren't going be creating a moving or emotional atmosphere. I know if I used any of my music it wouldn't produce any decent rpg atmosphere. The music you need is the kind of music from the film Psycho, great music. xXx has music like Drowing Pool, cool as it may be, did the film make you connect with the characters or feel much emotion? No. Therefore the inevitable choice of music is midi. I would strongly recommend you only use mp3 if you want to include some of your own music and even then keep it limited.





What Instruments Help Produce Which Emotions?


Anyone can tell what music sounds sad, what ones are more action like. Hopefully I can categorize some of the instruments into what emotion they most help to produce. (Below is based on the Presto music maker)


Piano: Mainly used for slower more depressing songs. This is what I think the piano instruments are best at, if used more jazzy then I think it usually sounds a little silly. So use the piano to help you create a song for someone who has just died or something similar.


Chromatic Percussion: Similar sounds to the piano section. These are slightly happier sounding (overall). So they would be used in a sad but wishful situation such as if x loves y but she doesn't know and is married but they get on together really well. Also due to their more lively sound you could use an instrument from this section to spice up almost any other song (minus the depressing ones).


Organ: Best used for ultimately depressing songs or evil theme tunes. Organs are very similar to piano but have something pianos don't. Good for background ambiance. These can be used in any songs.


Guitar: Good for some action music but also nice for more mellow and relaxed sounds.


Bass: Not very good for a main instrument. These should be used to back any other instrument(s) in evil, sad, action or comedy themes. Good for all.


Strings: Use this for something sad or very peaceful.


Ensemble: This section has quite a mix of sounds and can be used depending on the instrument for many different things. String Ensemble is more chirpy than Synth Strings for instance.


Brass: Brass instruments are good for royal or army theme tunes and anything with a bit of pride attached or celebration in it.


Reed: Very similar to brass, personally I would use reed for the same stuff.


Pipe: Calm town music or a nice forest walk type music can be made from pipe sounds. They are calm and nice to listen to.


Synth Lead: The sounds from this vary. Once again yes it can be used to make a variety of atmospheres but only because there are many different instruments good for their own things in here. Some of this (mainly the first two) are more futuristic sounding and shouldn't even be applied to an old style rpg.


Synth Pad: This is very eery sounds in a sense and would be good to back some of the deeper organs and sound very church like or gothic castle style.


Synth Effects: I didn't like any of these. Weird versions of other instruments for the other categories. Avoid, because they aren't really worth using (if you're stubborn like me anyways).


Ethnic: Enthic literally makes this (as the name suggest) good for oriental areas in your game. I like the instruments in here and you could make many different kinds of happy tunes or sad ones. Nothing evil can be easily made from these.


Percussive: No comment needed for this. Your source of drums can come from here, these alone cannot produce a good drumming basis but can add or provide a light drumming to a song.


Sound Effects: Good for pretty much anything. Most of this I don't usually use but they can come in handy for lots.


Despite the instruments which can be used pretty much to any effect, things such as the tempo, where you're playing on the keyboard and drum beat (also drum sounds) will also greatly effect the outcome.





Two Main Ways of Selecting Music


There are two ways of choosing music. I said two main ways just incase you know a few more. Basically you can choose them all before or pick them as you go. I'll recommend picking them as you go for a few reasons. If you select all the music first you may add many more than you will use and therefore make the game a larger download. If you try to delete these extra music files you can cause the error where the game says it can't find the file when it doesn't need it in the first place. Also, by selecting the music as you go not only can you get a good song for the current situation but you can also pick one that sounds like it relates more to a character. However strange it may sound certain songs simply don't match certain people. I suggest a compromise tactic of gathering many midis from all around and dumping them in a folder, then pick them out as you need to use them. This way you have many but haven't actually got them all confused and tangled within your music folder.





Creating Eery Music


Eery music is always good fun and can be suprisingly easily made. My main suggestions are as follows:


- Keep an unusual mix of pitches, have some instruments hitting low and others higher so they don't really combine very well.


- Don't use proper chords because they sound good. The more un-chordlike your music is then the stranger and more horrible it will sound.


- Look at the section above to see what some of the instruments you could use for eery music are, but also use a few normal instruments to make a contrast.


- See what making the song's tempo leap around does. If it doesn't keep a steady pace it produces and uneasy feeling.


- Make the music seem to go nowhere (keep playing similar pieces and make it seem as if you will change what is being played at a certain point but don't) which makes you feel trapped and is also horrible.





Creating Sad Music


Sad music is always needed, especially when you have someone dead or something destroyed. My main suggestions are as follows:


- Slow soft instruments, preferably ones that hold on (unlike piano etc).


- Slow hard drums help to remind you of the tragedy, make it feel like a heart beat.


- Make it mainly low pitched but a higher pitched instrument playing a little (usually playing the same as something already being played deeply).





Creating Action Music


Action music is good for combat, running away and anything fasy paced. My main suggestions are as follows:


- Not much holding on of notes, quick sharp sounds.


- A fast tempo and some heavy drums to accompany it.


- Instruments should move up and down the keyboard not sticking to any particular octave if you want it to be very frantic.





The End


I could ramble on it bit more but I'm not really an expert and everything else is pretty much common sense. So with that I'll leave you to reflect upon the article and go choose and make your music.